Decriminalization of Marijuana

Police are the frontline enforcers of a criminal justice system that incentivizes imprisonment. While much attention has been paid to cops practices, there has been less concentrate on the foundation of authorities authority– the laws which offer cops and courts broad discretion to detain and put behind bars individuals for offenses that have absolutely nothing to do with public security.

If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged,
an estimated 1 out of every 20 persons (5.1%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime.
-U.S. Dept of Justice

From 1980 to 2008, the variety of Americans incarcerated increased from 500,000 to 2.3 million. Almost half of the individuals put behind bars in state facilities are there for nonviolent offenses. Black and Latina/o people make up nearly 60% of all incarcerated individuals, even though they make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. This boost in incarceration is, in part, due to thousands of brand-new laws at the federal, state and regional level that permit police to apprehend people for anything from breaches of minor school policies to offenses of park guidelines. Michigan, for instance, has at least 3,102 crimes on the record and has produced an average of 45 brand-new criminal activities every year. California has developed 1,000 brand-new criminal activities in the last 25 years. Cities across the nation have likewise enacted countless new local level infractions. In New York city City alone, there are almost 10,000 laws, offenses, guidelines, and codes that cops can enforce.

As an outcome of the assault of brand-new “crimes,” police concerns have moved from the investigation of violent criminal activities to an emphasis on administrative and regulative offenses, including things like public intake of alcohol, spitting or perhaps using drooping trousers. It is estimated that the typical officer spends 90% of their time dealing with small infractions that break regional administrative codes and just 10% of their time handling violent criminal activities.

These new laws broadened officer discretion and increased their targeting of lower-income Black and Latino communities. Over 80% of those ticketed in New York city City for low-level offenses are Black or Latina/o individuals. Similar inconsistencies exist in the enforcement of drug laws in spite of the truth that Black and Latino communities usage of drugs are at similar rates as white neighborhoods. Moreover, nearly 50% of drug arrests are for marijuana-related offenses. One in every 15 Black males and one in every 36 Latino men are incarcerated in comparison to one in every 106 white guys.

Police and jails have ended up being the federal government’s answer to nearly every social problem in low-income communities of color. The criminalization of poverty, mental disorder, viewed anti-social habits, and drug addiction has led to mass imprisonment. Increased criminalization also aggravates neighborhood members’ interactions with police and leaves them vulnerable to the whims of police, who are often incentivized by quotas and political pressure to arrest and jail as lots of people as possible. Key to changing police and neighborhood relations is the decriminalization of habits that do not position a danger to public security and investment in alternative options to social and health problems.

In Practice

A variety of jurisdictions throughout the country have decriminalized cannabis– most just recently Colorado, Washington, and Washington D.C. In Washington, D.C. neighborhood companies gathered sufficient signatures to put the concern on the November 2014 ballot and in February 2015, marijuana for recreational usage was voted to be decriminalized. The campaign now focuses on ending discrimination through full legalization and refocusing cops concerns on more crucial matters.

In NYC, the prioritization of low-level offenses resulted in more people being jailed for cannabis belongings in 2011 than the total number arrested for the crime in between 1981 and 1995. Eighty-four percent were Black or Latina/o, even though a lot of marijuana users in New York city are white.

Grassroots advocacy and public pressure have altered the political environment around cannabis within N.Y. State. Organizations like VOCAL NY and the Drug Policy Alliance have been positioned as an advocacy, public education, and grassroots arranging project. In 2013, a coalition of grassroots groups hosted an online forum for the Brooklyn District Attorney prospects to talk about the connections between the unsuccessful war on drugs and mass incarceration and encouraged prospects to consider various methods to dealing with drug dependency. A comparable mayoral forum was hosted, and organizers were able to successfully alter the public narrative a lot so that both Republican and Democratic prospects openly supported legalizing percentages of marijuana. Most just recently, Brooklyn’s District Lawyer said that his workplace would not prosecute low-level cannabis possessions.

Men (9.0%) are over 8 times more likely than women (1.1%) to be incarcerated in prison at least once during their life. -U.S. Dept of Justice

Nevertheless, without legislation, there is no way to impose non-prosecution or department de-prioritization. To ensure the permanence and effectiveness of any reforms, legislation should ultimately be passed. Advocacy groups throughout the state are now pushing New York to introduce an expense that would make ownership of small amounts of cannabis a violation as opposed to a misdemeanor.

Just recently, in recognition of the monetary and human expenses of the criminalization of low-level offenses, a variety of city council members in New York City are working to alter a few of the City’s most common offenses from criminal to civil charges.

Similarly, in November 2014 citizens in California passed Proposition 47, which lowers specific drug belongings and home criminal offense felonies to misdemeanors and reinvests the estimated $150 million a year in cost savings to support school truancy and dropout avoidance, victim services, psychological health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs created to expand options to incarceration. The Proposal passed as an outcome of the efforts a coalition of supporters, base structure companies and policymakers from across the state.

Best Practices

Actions can be taken at the state, City or county level to legalize formerly criminal habits and reduce mass imprisonment and violent police conduct.

When possible, municipalities should modify their municipal codes to reclassify existing misdemeanors into civil violations. Towns should also make sure that fines associated with civil offenses do not become excuses to put behind bars or financially make use of individuals. Some of the more common offenses criminalized that occured in the 80s and 90s include: Consumption of Alcohol on Streets, Disorderly Conduct, Public Urination, Bicycle on Walkway, Trespassing (which can consist of being in a building without identification), Failure to abide by park signs, Unlawfully in parks after hours, Marijuana possession, Littering, Loitering, Panhandling, Transit Offenses (consisting of sleeping on train, taking up several seats, traveling between subway automobiles, dancing on train), Loud Music, Truancy and Spitting.

Towns need to change their city charters or regional municipal laws to restrict the administrative, health, park and tax code offenses that authorities are responsible for imposing.

States– and where possible, cities– must decrease collateral consequences arising from all minor offenses, so that people’ employment, migration, parenting, voting, and public real estate statuses are not jeopardized.

States must decriminalize cannabis and include provisions that enable belongings of marijuana for persons of any ages, allow those who have currently been founded guilty for belongings of marijuana to clear their records, repair meanings of what constitutes sale of cannabis so that sharing is not lawfully seen as selling, and consist of racial impact analysis and information collection mandates to ensure that enforcement of any existing laws is not racially bias.

Cities should also take steps to reduce the damages of cannabis and other low-level offenses by encouraging police to deprioritize enforcement of these criminal activities and encouraging regional D.A.s to cease in pursuing low-level offenses.

Cities and states can reinvest a percentage of any savings arising from criminal justice reform focused on community‐based efforts, prevention, intervention, treatment, education, and other programs that have been revealed to promote much healthier, stronger and more secure neighborhoods.

Sample legislation and Policy

For the text of the proposed New York city State Fairness and Equity Act, see: http://open.nysenate.gov

The Fairness and Equity Act, introduced in 2013, proposes to end the racially biased arrests of tens of countless New York city’s by fixing the law relating to possession of percentages of marijuana, create a procedure for those who have been convicted of public possession of small amounts of cannabis to clear their records, lowers collateral effects resulting from marijuana belongings arrests and non-criminal offenses, seals marijuana possession infractions immediately upon conviction and develops a process to make use of racial and ethnic effect declarations for legislation proposing to customize New York city’s penal code.

For the text of California’s Proposition 47, see: http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov

Proposition 47 was a ballot step that passed in 2014 in California. It reclassified six low-level home and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, along with individual use of most controlled substances. State cost savings arising from the step are estimated to be at least $150 million a year and will be utilized to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, and drug abuse treatment, and other programs developed to expand options to imprisonment.

Resources

For more reading on marijuana decriminalization campaigns across the nation see the Drug Policy Alliance’s Site: http://www.drugpolicy.org/

To learn more about the out of proportion effect of marijuana enforcement, see ACLU’s “The War on Cannabis in Black and White”: https://www.aclu.org/.

For more information about over-criminalization: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/

For additional information about the California project to change sentencing practices and purchase neighborhoods: http://www.unitedforprop47.com/

For more details about VOCAL NY’s project to decriminalize cannabis and other low-level offenses in New York City: http://www.vocal-ny.org/

New Developments in Lawsuit Over Texas Prisoner’s Death

The family of Gregorio de la Rosa, Jr. was awarded $42.5 million from their lawsuit filed against The GEO Group for negligence in the 2001 death of Gregorio while he was in custody of the Willacy County Correctional Facility in Raymondsville, TX. According to the court’s judgment, “Gregorio, an honorably discharged former National Guardsman, was serving a six-month sentence at a prison operated by Wackenhut Correction Corporation [now The GEO Group] for possession of fewer than 1/4 grams of cocaine. A few days before his expected release, Gregorio was beaten to death by two other inmates using a lock tied to a sock, while… Wackenhut’s wardens smirked and laughed” (TPB).

During the following investigation, prosecutors questioned whether or not The GEO Group destroyed surveillance video evidence of the incident. The family claimed there was a videotape of the event, and when questioned about the video, “Warden Forrest testified during his deposition that there was a video camera on one of the perimeter posts that was focused down on the beating. In his sworn statement, he admitted to seeing a tape of the beating and described the video and the beating in detail. His stated that the video showed ‘that one inmate had beat another inmate with a sock filled with a lock,’ and it showed an inmate kicking and punching Gregorio.

“After reviewing his deposition, however, Warden Forrest changed his testimony, claiming that the video never existed. At trial, he admitted to describing the video in his deposition testimony, but he claimed that his prior testimony describing the video was ‘based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information.’ He explained that he had created his ‘own little movie’ in his mind.

“I did that based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information. I put that picture—painted that picture in my head that I believed that’s what I saw, and that’s what I testified to, and I corrected it that day and at a later date… I described what I thought I saw based on the information of everyone telling me what happened. I painted a picture of that incident in my mind, and I played it over in my mind many, many times since then.”

However, since this ruling against The GEO Group, the de la Rosa’s attorney, Ronald Rodriguez, has charged the company with filing fraudulent SEC reports. The GEO Group claimed that both the Texas Rangers and the Texas Office of the Inspector General both exonerated the company from any responsibility for the death of de la Rosa in 2001. However, there is no record of either party having this sentiment. According to Rodriguez’s statements, “there is nothing in the record supporting GEO’s patently untrue statements of material fact and omission of material fact, in the documents filed with the SEC” (BH). Rodriguez claims the actions of The GEO Group are a mockery of the legal system. Last Friday, Rodriguez said these claims of filing fraudulent SEC reports is still forthcoming.

On another similar note, the investigation into de la Rosa’s murder case also uncovered some information linking former Vice President Dick Cheney to $85 million in investments with Vanguard Group and the prison industry. Attorney Juan Guerra asserts that these investments resulted in Cheney using his influential position to quell proper and thorough investigations into the murder of de la Rosa, and that the money given to the family in 2006 was an attempt to end all investigations into Gregorio’s death. After filing these charges, Juan Guerra was arrested and claimed that it was an attempt to keep him from uncovering the information linking the Vice President to murder coverups.